With Valentine’s Day and Jade and Tanner’s “surprise” wedding in the rear-view mirror, it’s time for Ben Higgins to plod onward in his quest for Bachelor love.
Our season 20 dud-muffin, who does, in fact, bear a striking resemblance to Peter Brady, has narrowed the competition for his considerable affections down to six or, more accurately, five plus Emily. The sole remaining Stepford Swift is only around because Olivia couldn’t stop talking about how “deep intellectual things are [her] jam” with feet buried cankle-deep in wind-whipped beach sand.
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Plenty of Room at the Hotel California
So while Emily will only be continuing her My Buddy/Kid Sister relationship with Ben for another week, there remain five contenders in the Mrs. Higgins sweepstakes. But my biggest concern as we head from the Bahamas to Warsaw, Indiana, for a protein-packed slice of Wonder Ben’s childhood, which will leave us with our final four hometown date recipients, is the source of the drama.
With both Olivia and Leah sharing the crazy train scrapyard fate as Lace and Jubilee, and everyone who Emily has quarreled with, gone, Caila is all we have filling the potentially off-the-rails void. And she’s not exactly endearing herself to Ben, even if it’s “almost attractive that she can be so confusing.” It’s called rambling, Ben. And “sex panther” isn’t always a good thing. Just ask Paul Rudd.
Welcome to Hoo(sier)ville
After a rough week in the Bahamas, Ben is happy to be in his hometown. And even though he’s emotionally down, he’s excited to get a feel for what real life could be like in small-town America with his six potential wives. He meets his parents in the local diner, and he describes his ladies as such:
Becca: Early favorite, but standoffish on the last group date.
JoJo: The one he is most himself with.
Emily: She has a twin.
Lauren B: There is something about her that has stood out since day one.
Caila: Beautiful but scared she can’t fall in love.
Amanda: Shockingly beautiful and a mom, but also an incredible woman.
The women are excited to get to know Ben’s roots, and Emily in particular is ready to start making babies. Little Stepford babies. For her part, Lauren B. is anxious to clear the air after Leah’s deception may have swayed Ben’s opinion of her.
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Bachelor Gives Back
Ben welcomes the girls to Warsaw, and the first date starts right now. Lauren B. has 30 minutes to get ready. The others are upset because it’s the first time he’s specifically asked someone out instead of it being printed on a card, and rejection is clearly easier to take in print form. They’ve all been feeling apprehensive about his connection with Lauren B., and it’s causing walls to be raised.
The couple drives around the city in a pickup truck, checking out the sights. There’s his school and his church, as well as the movie theater where he had his first kiss, and it’s basically the same tour he gave us in the premiere. Warsaw seems fun so far.
They end up at the Baker Youth Club, where he used to volunteer helping kids in the community have a place to go after school, much like an after-school program. She needs to understand that this is the place that molded him into a man, and so they play with kids before Ronnie Shoemaker the Half Court King (look him up!) nails a shot with a kiss riding on it.
Then Ben brings in Paul George, George Hill and Boomer from the Indiana Pacers, and a great day is had by all. The highlight has to be when Ben finds little Eric crying in the corner and convinces him to join the group and have fun, even capping it off with a terrible high five that makes at least six of Lauren’s eggs drop. Plus, anyone who can wear a white T-shirt while exercising and have no pit stains is a freak of nature worth holding on to.
If she wasn’t the frontrunner before, she certainly is now. I bet that Eric kid was a plant.
Everything that Gal Just Said was Bullshit
The next stop is Ben’s place, where Lauren aims to put Leah’s lies to rest. He was told that she was different in the house than she is with him and that she didn’t seem into it, and that raised doubts in his mind. She felt helpless and was too caught off guard to know what to say, but now she can address the topic because he allows her to be her complete self.
He cares enough that one catty comment wouldn’t change how he feels, and this date was their relationship coming full circle. He is clearly feeling the love, but he can only offer a hearty “I trust you,” since it’s not time to say it (twice) yet, and she responds that he makes her happy. Or “I love you too,” in innuendo speak.
They cap the date off at Ben’s local dive bar, which I assume Chris Soules has been kicked out of at least once, for a night with his friends or random strangers. She abstains from the group round of shots, which my wife did not do on our second date, and I spent the remainder of the night holding her hair back even though I had to be up for work at 4am. And now we’re married.
Still, probably a good decision on Lauren’s part. They say goodnight, and Lauren is not in love with Ben the Bachelor. She’s in love with Ben from Warsaw, and it feels oh-so-good.
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Talk About a Home Run
The next date card — Let’s find love in the Windy City — goes to JoJo, and it’s off to Chicago, where she hopes for tunnel vision that will block out the doubts and insecurities. Ben is a huge Cubs fan, and he gives her a piggyback ride to the pitching mound at Wrigley Field.
They don matching Mr. and Mrs. Higgins jerseys for an impromptu pickup game, and where’s Henry Rowengartner when you need him? They snuggle in the outfield (like angels? JGL? Child actor reunion?) and tour the scoreboard, and while she wants to let herself fall, she can’t because the process doesn’t make her feel safe.
He needs her to take the next step and offers reassurances, but her pulling away also pushes him back and makes him question how she would answer a proposal. She offers some crap about her past and always loving more than she was loved, and I guess everyone has their own version of unlovaben-jubes-jojo-itis. But he has the qualities she wants, and she cares about him more than anything.
She insists she’s not afraid, but it isn’t believable, and this effort won’t keep her on par with Lauren B. She asks him not to doubt her because she’s on Team Ben. And while she feels herself falling in love, I don’t think either of us are buying it.
Down on the Farm
The four women waiting to learn their date fate lament what a roller coaster this process is, until a group card arrives for Caila, Amanda and Becca. That means Emily is getting the third one-on-one, and she immediately bursts into tears.
The triple daters sit in silence ahead of their awkward three-on-one, which is at a farmhouse that only comes with one rose. They row, row, row some boats (Caila rides with Ben, while Becca and Amanda literally paddle in a circle) and go fly a kite (Caila seem to think two feet above your head is a proper height), and after the act-out-your-favorite-childhood-song portion of the date is done, it’s time to narrow the field.
Whoever receives the rose will continue the date, while the other two head back without the security they so desire. He pulls Amanda aside, and they talk about being excited to see her kids. She’s never introduced them to a guy she’s dated, and she wonders why he’d even be interested. He answers that her struggles make it easier to understand how she turned out so great.
Becca’s alone time, however, isn’t quite as rewarding. With a literal pitchfork in background, she talks about being stressed out and insecure and full of doubt. Instead of reminding him why he’s interested in her, she opines that she has nothing to make herself feel more special than the others and that she deserves someone who wants to be with her. She basically gives him the ultimatum and demands that he not blindside her.
Caila’s new insecurities come from the fact that she moved around more than a dozen times before college, so she doesn’t have the roots that Ben does and worries her hometown will not offer the same experience, since that is obviously so important to him. He asks if she could fit into a town long-term, and while she can’t be certain, she has been molded to be adaptable.
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Three Becomes One
They sure made it easy on him, huh?
He feels great about all three, which makes the decision that much more difficult, but he’s giving the rose to the person he wants to be confident that he’s ready to meet her family. And with so much on the line and only one person being fun on this date, that’s clearly Amanda.
But if you’re Becca, that’s not the ultimatum answer you were hoping for, and this isn’t how she wants to be with a person with whom she’s trying to fall in love.
Caila manufactures alligator tears that show maybe she’s not what he wants, and Emily, Lauren and JoJo are shocked to learn of the day’s transgressions. “How can you give someone that much validation?” an astonished JoJo wonders. Um, the one with kids. Becca believes this to be the most she’s opened up to someone, but when the thing you open up about is how much you need back, it’s not really the same thing.
A Dollar Menu Date
Ben and Amanda spend their evening at the Warsaw McDonald’s because that’s apparently what is normal for him. They order two Egg McMuffins to reflect how much effing money McDonald’s is spending to sponsor this show and push the all-day breakfast menu, and then they man the drive-thru window to offer an annoying experience to every guy trying to sneak in a Big Mac before his wife’s squash spaghetti quinoa bowl.
Ben awkwardly forces her to Lady and the Tramp a French fry, and close-up on the McMuffin! I mean, when they go to Wrigley, I don’t get the feeling the Cubs are looking for exposure. But this is an advertisement masquerading as a date.
After the five-minute commercial ends, it’s off to a street carnival, where they end the date with ring tosses, feats of strength and a romantic Ferris wheel ride that cements her likely status in the final two with Lauren B. Oh, and crybaby Eric is super excited about his cotton candy.
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Emily’s Blank Space
The house is split over how Emily’s one-on-one date will go, with anxieties clouding their judgment regarding the obvious. Only Caila seems confident that Emily isn’t quite there yet, calling her a “bright-eyed puppy” to whom “everything is exciting and new.”
Ben is taking her by boat (“are those swans?”) to the house he grew up in, and maybe he has a younger brother or cousin or something that he’ll hook her up with. They look through his old bedroom, and you know immediately things are headed south when they cue the music change to “circus.”
Emily is nervous to meet Amy and Dave (I’d still go with Mr. and Mrs. Higgins), as she tends to get anxious and worries she’ll make a fool of herself. It’s cute that she babbles on about enthralling topics like ducks, being young, dreaming of becoming a Broncos cheerleader (does she think Denver is in Indiana?), being average at everything yet being confident she’ll be an “above average” wife and mother, wanting to spend all day watching movies and not liking vegetables. But it doesn’t scream “ready.”
She says “you know” a lot and talks fast, like a person fresh out of college on a first interview for a job he or she really wants (think Shoshanna on Girls), and I half expect visible emojis to start popping out of her mouth.
His mother describes Emily as “a fun individual,” but the subtext screams, “Seriously, Ben, what are you doing? Why the hell is this chick still around?? What about Lauren H.?!?” She masks her manipulative mom nature by getting tearful while putting the kibosh on this madness.
Emily’s heart is singing over the prospect of being part of his family, but he doesn’t need to wait until a rose ceremony to call it a day with this one. You might not know who you want your wife to be, but you do know you don’t want your parents laughing at who you consider.
Still, “I don’t think I can see you being my wife” is pretty damn harsh. Honest, but harsh. She handles it well, at least until she has to describe the dumping to the others, but can anyone even recall a time when they kissed? Back to Las Stepford!
And Then There Were Four
Ben still has one lady to kick to the curb, and he is overcome with emotion at the thought of having to make any sort of decision. But there’s one person who has not gotten to the same place as the others, and she’s the one who also won’t be his wife.
The roses go to:
Emily was a no-brainer, but Becca sealed her fate in this episode. Giving anyone an ultimatum is a tricky proposition, even crazier under these circumstances, and you’d better be ready for it to backfire. I once told a girlfriend that if I ever made her choose between me and another person, pick them because if I force you, I’m not worth it.
He walks Becca out, and she’s pissed that he didn’t give her advance notice after the blindsiding request. He explains that he was never certain, but the prospect of bringing her family into the picture convinced him that now was the right time. She retorts that she’d rather be out now than later — and that’s why you’re gone, Becca. You were as focused on how you’d leave as you were on whether you’d stay.
On to Hometowns
And now it’s time for that bi-annual rite of passage where four individuals introduce someone who is currently dating three other people to their families. As I said before, I’m leaning towards Amanda and Lauren as the final two, but that all changes when you throw relatives into the mix.
Amanda’s parents surmise that Ben would be a great dad, but is he ready to be an instant one? Both Caila and Lauren’s families have lots of doubts, while JoJo has protective brothers, and you know how that goes.
Yep, they basically threaten Ben, who apparently leaves her home in tears. Perhaps Eric is willing to share some of his cotton candy?
The Bachelor airs Mondays at 8pm on ABC.
(Image courtesy of ABC)